I really wanted to love this book with its focus on a possible identity for Shakespeare's Dark Lady, and the C16th sonnet... but sadly I found it extremely contrived, with gaping holes in the plot, and characters I just couldn't believe in.
Rose Asher is an academic at a New York university. One of her students, Robin, (with whom some people think she might be having an affair, though no-one seems particularly bothered that he's an undergraduate and she's his lecturer...) writes a film script which gets snapped up by Hollywood (right!) but then is either pushed or jumps off a balcony on the night he wins a film prize. The possible pushee just happens to be the son of the one man Rose has ever loved, even though that was 20 years ago, and (again) she was an undergraduate and he was her lecturer. Despite the balcony being crowded with students no-one noticed whether Robin jumped or was pushed, and the main suspect is allowed to just run out of the room and no-one ever bothers to follow him, question him or anything.
The main characters then congregate at an Italian villa in Florence where evidence might lie that will reveal the identity of Shakespeare's Dark Lady of the sonnets. Did Robin find them (even though he's just an undergradute, not even sure he's that interested in literature, and Rose's ex-lover is a Renaissance professor who's been living there for the last twenty years and has never found anything...) and why would someone want to kill him for this discovery?
More murders abound, there are a plethora of roses everywhere (not least the main character) some of which might be drops of blood. And tied up with this plot are various shady deals taking place between the academics, the film producers and the Italians.
For me this was a book that was all about plot, not character, but the plot failed to grip. There were just too many coincidences, too many easy ways out, and the central romance was so ridiculously Mills & Boon!
The sonnets written by the author's husband for the book and supposed to represent the thoughts of a C16th courtesan/mistress were just embarrassing (sorry!). Rose as a supposed expert on the sonnet can't tell whether a manuscript page she is given is a C16th original or a modern copy. And once she's figureed out the story she finds the evidence to back her up in one morning after a few hours in an archive - sorted!
I did read this through to the end in the hope that the story would pick up but no. Altogether I found this a very unsatisfying book with too many loose ends, and people acting in completely unbelievable ways. Very disappointing.